Youth Ministers are surrounded by pressures on almost every side. The pressure to organize the impressive retreats and come back with all the students in tact. The pressure from parents, who believe that their kids’ good or bad decisions are the fault of the Youth Minister. The pressure to stay on budget, but still grow in all areas of ministry. The need to pull off succinct services every week.
But maybe the most understated pressure is the pressure to buy and wear the right clothes, have the latest device, and know the trending YouTube videos; it’s the pressure to be and look cool.
This pressure stems from some understandable and true desires, such as to be able to connect, be relatable and be accessible to the students. However, taking a step away from this pressure, away from the “27 year-old in clothes from a 17 year-old’s closet” style, may actually allow you to be more effective in ministry.
Here’s the deal – as much as your students want you to be connected to their world, they don’t want you stay there. They want to know you are connected to another world, one that they want to get to know as well. Another way to look at it is that God is calling us to be a bridge between His Kingdom (The Kingdom of Heaven) and the Kingdom of the world. To do this, we need to be living in the tension of both.
There is something to be said for relating to the culture in which you are a missionary (no doubt about it – every single Youth Minister is a missionary). However, you have to be able to be just enough of an outsider to be able to call others out of it. You must understand the culture, by involving yourself with it, but have your eye and heart on something outside, which you are calling people to. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to be accepted by the people we have been called to lead that we forget our primary job is to actually lead them.
Take Michael Scott from the T.V. series “The Office”. He spends so much of his time and energy trying to relate and be relatable to his employees that he often completely forgets to lead them. He is constantly trying to create events and opportunities that will get his employees to like him. This leaves him absent of ability to be the leader he needs to be.
Unlike Michael Scott, the Apostle Paul was extremely intensional to connect to every culture he was stepping into; however, he focused himself on called people to a greater understanding of what life could be. He wrote, “I became all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 corinthians 9:22). Paul knew the importance of contextualization, but his main object was always to win people for Christ.
In 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter writes to the churches throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. In this letter he calls the people in those churches to live among the non-believers in their cities, but also to resemble Christ in such a way that non-believers are drawn to them. This is articulated in 1 Peter 2:11, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visit us.” Peter is calling the Christians to be bridges between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world.
Obviously, Jesus is the best example there ever was. He involved himself with the people he came to save, without contradicting His given identity. We see this in his interaction with the least, last, lost of society, throughout the Gospels. Just look at the story of the women caught in adultery in John 8. Jesus was not cool in that moment, but he was a bridge between the two Kingdoms.
So, how do we put practical handles on this?
It’s important to take a survey of the things we are doing. Asking the questions: Who am I doing this for? Why do I wear this shirt, talk this way, drive that car? Also, it’s important to consider the amount of time we spend talking about each Kingdom.
If we are called to be a bridge, people have to know the place they are being called to go. So how much time do you spend talking about the Kingdom of God against the amount of time you spend talking about the current celebrity gossip or weekend sports scores?
Here’s the Challenge: Are you ok with being less cool? Spending more time learning the Kingdom of God? If not, you will never see traction in this area.
The Invitation: By becoming more of a bridge and being less concerned about being seen as cool, you will see that the Kingdom of God begins to actually change the culture you are called to bring people out of. The Kingdom of God cleans everything it touches. And that’s pretty cool.